Science: The t-shirt!

Enigma machine sampled and put to music

I love it: The experimental-music duo Matmos recently got their hands on a real-life Engima machine, recorded its typewriter-like clicking, and used it in a piece of music they’re about to release.

The Engima machine is, of course, the cryptographic system famously used by the Nazis, and equally as famously broken due to the work of mathematician genius Alan Turing. When I visited the U.K. three years ago I visited Bletchley Park — Britain’s WWII code-breaking headquarters — and got a chance to actually use an Engima machine with my own hands, which was, of course, awesomely fun. So I can attest that it makes some kinetically nifty clickety-click noises.

How precisely did Matmos get to record one? As they report in a Q&A in Seed magazine:

How did you get your hands on an Enigma machine?

Drew Daniel: Robert Osserman [of the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute] is the husband of my dissertation director. He put us in touch with this corporation called Cryptography Research. That place was insane. They had retinal scanners on the walls to go into certain rooms. It’s a serious cryptography Valhalla.

And you recorded from the Enigma?

Daniel: Yeah … There’s this mantra, “every noise has a note.” It’s basically true. Even the Enigma machine is in a particular key.

I’d love to hear the piece, but unfortunately the only available online clip currently seems to be unavailable. As I type this, though, I’m currently listening to some Matmos on Rhapsody (“Rag for William S. Burroughs”) and I have to say — even though I’m not much of a fan of experimental, real-world-sample-heavy music, it’s awfully good stuff! They really seem to listen carefully to their samples and arrange them in musically artful ways; yet it’s still oddly synchopated enough that when the nearby microwave in my office’s kitchen just went “beep”, I momentarily thought the noise was inside the song. I hope they release their new Turing song onto Rhapsody soon.

By the way, Matmos is apparently the name of the living liquid under the city of Sogo in the film Barbarella. Man alive these guys are nerds.

(Thanks to Sci Tech Daily for this one!)

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I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

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